Stephen Gaghan’s shaggy dog story Gold is apparently based on true events. It does however pay to add a pinch of salt to all that gold dust, as the prevailing motto appears to be, never let the facts get in the way of a ripping yarn.
In a deliciously entertaining opening scene, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) explains to his future wife Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) what a prospector does. Using her handbag as a prop, his demonstration is both charming and informs the audience in simple terms what he does for a living. He also uses a sleight of hand which is a clue to what lies ahead, for this is a story where it’s best to expect the unexpected.
Based on a 1997 mining scandal involving a Canadian company, the story is relocated to Reno and the year is 1988. Kenny is a down on his luck entrepreneur, working hard for his big break. After many false starts he finally hits pay dirt when he partners with geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez).
The combination of Michael’s knowledge and contacts in Indonesia together with Kenny’s research and gung-ho enthusiasm result in the pair hitting the mother lode. This, however, turns out to be just the beginning of another chapter, as the two find themselves out of their depth when it comes to the tricky legalities of finance corporations and investment shares.
Trying to keep one step ahead of the company sharks proves as hazardous as mining the much coveted gold in the heart of the wild Indonesian jungles. Kicking up his heels and enjoying the high life is fun for a while, but Kenny struggles to keep a grip on both his marriage and his partnership with Michael.
Matthew McConaughey used to be a bit of a preening punchline after a long stretch of formulaic romcoms where he did little but take his shirt off. With a pot belly and shiny pate, he’s de-glammed admirably for the role of Wells (think Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder). That trademark leering smugness remains intact though, and it’s perfectly in keeping with his character.
Ramírez is no slouch himself in the charisma department, and it’s great to see him get a substantial, meaty part in a major film.
Production designer Maria Djurkovic gets to have a lot of fun creating such diverging worlds as Kenny’s millionaire lifestyle, his periods of destitution and the harsh extremes of prospecting in the wilds of Borneo.
Douglas Crise and Rick Grayson’s editing keeps things ripping along at a cracking pace, and they’re aided by a soundtrack of up-tempo numbers and a score by Daniel Pemberton that veers from thumping tribal numbers to quieter moments of Burwell-esque introspection.
Gold is ultimately a cheeky adventure yarn punctuated by colourful characters and smart dialogue, not unlike a David O Russell film in terms of tone and entertainment value.
Gold is in national release from February 2
Richard Leathem @dickiegee